‘Jiu Jitsu’ Writer, Director Dimitri Logothetis on Putting Martial Arts First and Working With Nicolas Cage

You might have seen one of Nicolas Cage‘s latest projects in Netflix’s top 10 recently. Jiu Jitsu is a sci-fi action film that reimagines the genesis of the martial arts form, Jiu-Jitsu. The writer and director behind the movie, Dimitri Logothetis, spoke to Showbiz Cheat Sheet about his vision for the series (yes, there’s going to be a sequel) and what it was like to work with Cage.

Nicolas Cage and writer/director Dimitri Logothetis on the set of 'Jiu Jitsu.'
Nicolas Cage and Dimitri Logothetis | Courtesy of Dimitri Logothetis

Dimitri Logothetis: Filmmaker, thanks to Martin Scorsese

To fully grasp Logothetis’ truly wild world of Jiu Jitsu, it’s important to know a few things about the actor-turned-filmmaker BJJ enthusiast.

He decided to become an actor during college after taking a theater arts class to fulfill a public speaking credit. Prior to that, he was set on studying business. One of Logothetis’ early gigs was the part of “Desk Clerk” in New York, New York, starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese.

Logothetis tells SCS that one day on set, while he was working on a short story, Scorsese came up to him and grabbed the papers from his hands.

“No, it’s not ready,” he told him. But Scorsese insisted.  

“So he read it and he said, ‘You know what, you’re a pretty good writer. He said, ‘You should go to film school.’ I said, ‘What’s film school?’ Because it was still a new thing. And he said, ‘Well, it’ll teach you how to become a filmmaker.’ And so he wrote a letter and gave it to me so I could apply to film schools.”

And that’s how Logothetis got into filmmaking.

From the beginning of Logothetis’ filmmaking career, he’s enjoyed working, specifically, on action projects. In his 20s, he was a martial artist. He has two black belts.

As a director, he doesn’t think of himself as “someone that is trying to please an audience. I always just try to do something that’s just really cool.”

In ‘Jiu Jitsu,’ ‘everything that everybody’s doing is real’

Logothetis says it’s no secret that he can’t compete with Marvel movies — “they’ve got 10 times the amount of money I do” — but what he can do, is make a movie packed with “the best martial artists in the world.”

The cast includes Alain Moussi (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Frank Grillo (Captian America: The Winter Soldier), JuJuChan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Tony Jaa (Furious 7Ong Bak), Maresse Crump (The Protector 2), Ryan Tarran (Bloody Hell), Rick Yune (Olympus Has Fallen), and Marie Avgeropoulos (The 100).

Still from 'Jiu Jitsu'
Still from ‘Jiu Jitsu’ | Courtesy of Dimitri Logothetis

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Anyone who’s seen Jiu Jitsu knows that a majority of the film is action sequences. Logothetis says that that is, specifically, the focus of the film, even before the acting.

“I can’t approach a martial arts film without authentic martial artists in it and I think, perhaps, their acting isn’t up to par with a Nic Cage,” he said. “But I think the audience expects to see the authenticity and so you need to have some authentic martial artists to pull that off.”

The long sequences of fighting that litter the film are all the real thing. There’s no movie magic involved.

“Everything that everybody’s doing is real,” he said. “Nobody’s flying around on wires. When you see my guys do a flying spinning back kick, they’re actually doing it, because they’re amazing martial artists.”

Nicolas Cage as Wylie

Logothetis calls Cage the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the movie. The Ghost Rider actor plays a “wacky” character named Wylie. He appears about 40 minutes into the film, and when he does, he’s full-blown Cage.   

Logothetis says Cage was a “true consummate professional” who was fully “committed to the part.”

“He got off the plane and immediately met with me after his 20-some-odd-hour flight,” Logothetis said of Cage’s arrival on set. “He said to me, ‘What is it exactly you want me to do, Dimitri, to help you tell the story?’ We talked for a few hours… And then right after he said, ‘OK, I want to go work out with the stunt guys because I’ve got a background in jiu-jitsu myself.’ I said, ‘Nic, don’t you want to go clean up, go take a nap? Relax a little bit? Get into this tomorrow?’ He said, ‘No, man. I’m into it, let’s go.’”

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Cage did about 85% of his own action.

Logothetis feels Cage “brought a lot of entertainment value” to Jiu Jitsu.

“I think his character is a little wacky and a little crazy, which makes him very, very entertaining,” Logothetis said of Cage. “He always finds a little quirk and something really interesting in a character.”

The writer/director says there is a Jiu Jitsu sequel in the works, which will include an “amazing crew” pitted against “huge, awesome, hard-to-beat foes.”